Growing your resilience through loss and adversity
Losing isn't easy. Growing up, I was a competitive tennis player, and I struggled when I lost matches. My father used to tell me, "It doesn't matter that you lose. What matters is what you do after you lose." His words helped me get back up and practice harder as a kid.
I lost my father five years ago, and those words have echoed through my mind, helping me through unforeseen challenges as an adult.
Loss has been ever present in our community over the last year. We've lost feelings of safety – medical, psychological, relational and financial. We've lost celebrations, connections, experiences, health and even loved ones.
The struggles of adapting to the changes brought on by the pandemic have stressed us in profound ways, while we're also facing the stark reality of loss.
How grit can help you move through loss
Many of these circumstances are out of your control. However, you do have a choice in how you process your emotions, how you honor your losses, and how you connect with yourself and other people.
Grit, or perseverance of effort, is an innate human quality. It is also an intentional practice that can feed your capacity to grow when stretched by loss and adversity. Psychologist Angela Duckworth describes grit as "sticking with your future day in and day out, not just one week, not just one month, but for years."
Focusing on grit is tapping into that part of yourself that even under duress cannot be taken away. It's your beliefs, your story, and your vision for yourself and your communities. The energy that comes from grit helps you take steps toward healing, and then rise up again.
When you channel your energy toward your goals with an openness to learning and growing, you pursue a life in alignment with your values. This alignment gives you a sense of empowerment, even during times of uncertainty, and can reduce your stress and anxiety.
Three ways to harness grit are:
- Tapping into passion intentionally.
- Accepting imperfections with a growth mindset.
- Holding space for your own process with patience and compassion.
Focus on passions and goals
If you find it challenging to define your goals with precision, don't worry! That's a common concern. You can start by listing your values and hopes, and then start exploring them through imagery, journaling and visualizing.
Reinforce your vision by writing it down somewhere accessible, by saying it out loud, or by identifying an object or image that reinforces your inspiration. Stay flexible as you develop your goals, with a willingness to shift as you continue to grow.
The intention should be to devote time and energy to considering what you really want in a proactive way, and then claiming it.
Embrace a growth mindset
Take deliberate steps towards the vision that you have outlined by gathering information, considering possibilities and listening. Do so with the awareness that mistakes are part of the growth process, embracing imperfection instead of rejecting it.
The power of grit and the growth mindset is in the way they develop your creativity and resilience while you're facing challenges. When you are overwhelmed with the heaviness of stress and loss, you create an opening for hope by turning toward your passions and goals.
Hold space for compassion
As you begin to process loss, it's natural to feel unclear about what to do next. Loss is unique for each individual, and each individual's circumstances. Sometimes pressure can seep in – from yourself or others around you – about what progress is "supposed" to look like. You may need to assert your boundaries so you can focus on self-care and holding space to heal.
It's important to bear in mind that the healing process isn't linear. Working through it takes time and compassion. You are not alone in your experiences of loss, and you’re encouraged to ask for help, and to reach out in ways that feel safe and supportive.
If you find that you or a loved one needs guidance through grief, here are additional resources that may help you move through the process:
Our losses remind us of our humanity, our humility and our connection to each other. With grit and grace, we can take action to overcome adversity and grow our potential for resilience.
Tanya Lauer is an employee assistance counselor at Life & Work Connections. She is a licensed professional counselor with 20 years of experience in residential treatment centers and outpatient settings. The next session of her workshop on adapting in difficult times, "G.R.O.W. Resilience in the Face of Adversity," begins March 24.
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A version of this article appeared on the Life & Work Connections website.